Christou on Christou


‘I am therefore concerned with a music that confronts; with a music that wants to stare at the suffocating effect, even terror, of much of our everyday experience of living; with a music that does NOT seek to escape the relentlessness of patterns in which this experience keep unfolding. With a music that not only does not attempt to escape this experience, but that seeks out its forms – and eats them up, and throws them up again, just as dreams do.’

From: A Credo for Music
Jani Christou’s ‘A Credo for Music’ – Epoches, vol. 34, February 1966, p.146

‘In elaborating these thoughts concerning music, which, as I write, constitute for me part of my deepest convictions, I will endeavor to be as brief and concise as possible. In the lines that follow it may be seen that I often refer to the question of “transformation” and this concept may be interpreted very vaguely as a synonym of evolution, or at least as related to it. I nevertheless believe that a fuller explanation is necessary:

The logic of transformation cannot be explained in terms other than those pertaining to itself. It is very difficult because the validity of such descriptions depend on whether or not we are talking or listening from experience. But an image can help. Let us take as a basic concept space-time. An object can be considered as situated in ordinary space-time, that of everyday experience. That same object can be considered not from this point of view, but from a wider sense of space-time (namely, solar space-time). We can even go further and consider the object as occupying space-time within space-time, when we reach out to galaxial space-time dimensions. We can go on into intergalaxial dimensions. That same object assumes vastly different meanings, yet it is the same object. If we now think in terms of acoustical objects or events, we can perhaps, by analogy, see how the same events can have ever deepening implications.

Transformations in music do just that. Absence of transforming powers keeps the acoustical events on one level, thus catering only to our sense of decoration. Art which does not rise above this level may be craftful, but is no longer meaningful. [I think there is a much greater interest] in art that is of a liberative nature than in art which is of a decorative nature; liberative in the sense of liberating us from the common space-time continuum, pointing to other areas of experience.

I will try to classify my views in ten points here:

  • (i) I am concerned with the transformation of acoustical energies in to music.
  • (ii) Basically the meaning of music is a function of our possibility of experiencing such transformations. Music which is meaningless for one person may not only be valid for another, but can also strike him with the force of revelation (for example, a person may listen to a piece of music without being able to relate it to anything he has heard previously. He nevertheless feels that something has moved him).
  • (iii) The points of interest in a composition are those at which these transformations take place, although the demarcation lines are never fixed.
  • (iv) For both listener and composer the danger is of being seduced by the whore of decoration and aesthetics.
  • (v) Most of the music written in the course of the historical period of music has succumbed to these temptation in varying degrees. And this includes the period stretching from the early polyphonic school with permutatory devices right up to the present day of shoots of serlialism and the schools of chance, as well as those of computer-calculations.
  • (vi) Decoration and aesthetics have been and are powerful negative factors in music.
  • (vii) A manipulation of acoustical events which fails to generate the transformatory energies achieves nothing other than the more or less aesthetic and decorative saturation of acoustical space. Even “beautiful” music can leave one nauseated.
  • (viii) Every age experiences transformations within an aesthetic characteristic of that particular age.
    (ix) The obvious transplantation of an aesthetic of one age to another or even a generation to a generation is not only futile and invalid but is also a declaration of spiritual bankruptcy.
  • (x) Contrary to what is commonly held against music of our day, its frequent jarring and shock-provoking methods can be symptoms of the necessity for liberation from an inherited aesthetic and worn-out patterns of thought’.

Patterns and Permutations for orchestra 1960

‘The term PERMUTATION stands for the general process of multiplication of musical matter through the reorganization into different tonal and structural combinations of a given number of factors.

The term PATTERN stands for the constant regrouping of the same or different aspects of the same – components of a musical statement. The regrouping of these components is determined by sequences of permutations, so that no two expressions of the basic statement are ever identical.

Permutating components of a pattern’s basic statement are usually spread amongst a group of instruments collaborating in the formulation of group-statements. Such statements may at times be delivered soley in succession or, according to the situation, they may also overlap, somewhat in the manner of the “stretto” in a fugue using group-entries. At other moments, different patterns may be evolving simultaneously – one pattern performing the function of “counter-pattern” to the other.


A musical statement may release simple or complex energy. My concept of complex energy is derived from the fact that a flow of sound ordinarily considered as raw material may nevertheless have inner rhythms of its own – very much like the ceaseless atomic activity “within” physical matter out of which ordinary objects are made. Now a statement is made up out of a set of structural components with definite “outward shapes”. When these structural components are expressed in terms of raw material having its own independent rhythms – in terms that is, of “live” material – it is as though we were contemplating both the outward appearance of a group of objects while at the same time we were aware of the infinite activities of the atomic particles generating the matter out which the objects are made. We are, as it were, confronted with visible and invisible structures and activities, and it is this dual action in different categories which releases complex energy. The term COMPLEX PATTERN stands therefore for the type of pattern formed by the permutations of a statement’s components expressed in terms of “live” material.


“Live material” is serial material seen not only in terms of tones but of proportionate time-values too. A basic series of twelve tones will also express a basic succession of twelve time-values, and each time-value is seen as an intrinsic property of each degree of the series. Permutations of the degrees will also yield permutations of time-values and thus a variation in the arrangement of the twelve tonal degrees will give a different rhythmic structure each time. Horizontal energy is thus a built-in factor forming fresh structural combinations with each permutation of the basic series. Such derivative “live” series, although generating fresh rhythmic combinations with each permutation, will nevertheless have identical total duration in common with each other and with the basic series – since this will always be the sum of the same twelve time-values, no matter how these are re-arranged. I have therefore used the term ISCHRONES to designate any such group.


When a statement uses raw material with no independent rhythmic life of its own, the structural components express only “outward shapes” and the energy released is simple because the structural action takes place only in one category of perceptions as it were.

A pattern emerging out of the permutations of such components is consequently a SIMPLE PATTERN. And this is so even during multiple permutatory activity, as, for instance, when both the horizontal and vertical positions of these structural components are permutating in constantly shifting terms of further permutations affecting the composition of tone sequences – which in their turn are subjected to serially determined transposition cycles. For all these concurrent permutations are only so many different expressions of a given set of “outward shapes”, different aspects of objects existing in one category of perception. It is as though the same furniture in a room were to be constantly rearranged in wildly different combinations, while trick lighting-effects were to up each object differently each time – so that in one combination the sofa is blue and the adjacent armchair is red and the piano is black, while in the next combination the sofa, which has now switched position with the piano, is red while the piano has changed to blue – and the armchair, now suspended from the ceiling appears to be black…and so on.

For the emerging pattern to be complex we should in addition have to imagine that the stuff out of which the sofa, armchair and piano are made is also miraculously lit up from the inside, enabling us to simultaneously follow the independent multiple activities and colour combinations to which a set of micro-structures “within” the objects are subjected.


In this work pattern follows pattern with growing intensity, but the drama inherent in the work is only fully revealed by the emergence of a unique mega-statement of mother series I, delivering only a few tones of the series at a time. These parts of the mega-statement – which are spread over the entire latter part of the work – are in effect an anti-pattern (or a protest), their function being to momentarily arrest – and to dramatically attract attention away from – the mechanism of relentless pattern formation into which the multiple activities of the numerous offspring isochrones are canalised. And this drama is completed towards the end when both patterns of isochrones and the single tones of the mega-statement are gradually submerged, as it were, by the rising waters of the “continuum”.


Sustained series are horizontal expressions of a series spread over a number of parts, each of which plays and holds a tone. Saturation is total when twelve parts hold their corresponding tone so that a buildup of the twelve serial tones form a 12-tone “chord”. I express this by the symbol S-12 (saturation (S) may be less than total, the number of different tones held at any moment is indicated by the numeral S-6, S-4, etc.)

Sustained series are used at various points throughout the work, and their function here is to represent a sound continuum “in” which the “action” may or may not take place. The continuum is not, of course, heard continuously: when it does appear it is as though it has emerged out of the inaudible into the audible, and it does this with various degrees of intensity. It may be faintly heard in the background as in the passage for divided strings, bars 11-38; or it may invade the sonorous field entirely as in the passage scored for divided vlni 1 and 2 and celli developing into a tutti, bars 630-652; or yet again, expressed as a slow but persistent rising from the depths of the orchestra, it may gradually overwhelm all other activity – drawing everything else back into the continuum, bars 1061 etc. (timpani, c’bassi etc.).

There is a very close relationship between sustained series and a group of isochrones. Such a group may be interpreted as another aspect of the sound continuum, a more complex aspect and this interpretation is especially justifiable when isochrones are not interfered with the action of a structural statement expressing itself in terms of isochrones. Such is the case in the passage for violas A-B, celli A-B, c’bassi A-B, bars 738-762. I call this type of continuum a “continuum by isochrones”.

The continuum can also be represented by other means, such as a pedal held by one or more instruments over a suggestive stretch of time. Such pedals may give an actual tone or tones (S1, S2 etc.) as in the harmonic for violins, bar 1054; or may be created by percussion instruments (no determined pitches) as in the very outset passage for piano solo, bar 1-10. I call this type of continuum “pedal continuum”.’


Prometheus Bound

Interview with Christou by G. K. Pilichios, Ta Nea, Monday 20 May 1963

‘A musical representation of the cosmological conflict. After all, Prometheus’s predicament is the result of the tremendous upheaval in the cosmic order. Zeus overthrows his father Kronos. The new Gods on Olympus are strange and hostile powers as yet. Prometheus transgresses against this new order. He steals the FIRE and this act of open revolt against the privilege of the Gods has to be paid for.

He (Prometheus) is struck down by the wrath of Zeus. There is both the feeling of tremendous cosmic guilt and of open revolt and a feeling of the struggle by forces acting for man to reach the stars, to acquire the FIRE (SPIRIT) which will give him Godlike power. It is a struggle for power, but for COSMIC POWER, for power over DESTINY, power to beat HEIMERMENE (fate), power to rise over destiny, power over the unconscious; it is the one big step to integrate the cosmic unconscious to the conscious. It is open revolt against an existing order of things. Unlike Job, Prometheus does not relent! But, at the same time, it is not the Job-like situation in which a man questions God because Prometheus is a Titan, a “god” himself. It is therefore more obviously a question of psychic force against cosmic force on one level at least.

It is not a question of anti-religousness, but, if you like, a conflict of “religious forces”, a conflict of forces struggling for psychic power through matter. There is also the knowledge of final victory, which means that the ecstatic element, the knowledge of “future happiness” is there, and it is this which gives Prometheus the power to resist calamity and to bear his present fate with Titan-like courage and endurance. But there is also a deep tragic and human element in his cries of pain. It is perhaps Christ-like in this respect, that knows about final victory, that this does not lessen the actual pain’.

‘In assuming the responsibility of composing music for a tragedy for the first time, and all the more in the case of a tragedy such as Prometheus, I confess that I approached it with the fear that Aeschylus inspires in us all. From the start, however, I realized that it would have to be a cosmogonic work! This naturally suited my musical temperament, by which I mean that cosmogonic work inspired me more than a banal or simple one; but the fact that I had to set Aeschylus to music filled me with immense fear. In the end, I overcame all the difficulties by appealing to my instinct…My Greek origin helped me to find within myself the Greek melodies and all the other elements I needed to produce a work that was neither cerebral nor “syrupy”.’

Extract from a letter to Folke Rabe 8th September 1963:

You ask me about the instrumentation of Prometheus. I used two flutes, one oboe, 2 clarinets, one bassoon, two horns, one trumpet, one trombone, marimba, xylophone, pianoforte, timpani, various instruments ofthe percussion group. At one stage (entry of the oceanides) I used over the orchestra a tape recording of high-pitched obsessive sounds recorded within the pianoforte ( by gliding hands over the strings in a specific manner). This was very effective. However, I used more conventional techniques for certain choral areas (but the “difference” between my serial techniques and these simpler ones was, I believe, in good taste and everything, I hope, was in the spirit of the tragedy anyway). The crucifixion of Prometheus gave me occassion to make interesting orchestral hammerings with microphone amplifications, as also the end of the tragedy, when Prometheus sinks into the abysses after Zeus lets loose his cataclysms – at which point I also use a tape of natural cataclysmic sounds (thunder, savage winds, roaring oceans) over the natural screaming orchestra ….

Greece: The Inner World
(music for Television programme)

Extract from a letter to Folke Rabe 8th September 1963:

I have now been commissioned to write the music for an American television show of selections of three Greek tragedies: Prometheus, Hecuba and Oedipus Rex, with Robert Graves as narrator, and the National Greek theater protagonists. And all this to be ready in a month, I hope I manage. I have also been commissioned to write a Mass for the Oxford English Bach Festival 1964 – this is naturally a more challenging thing, but I haven’t thought much about it yet.


Tongues of Fire



Extract from a letter to Folke Rabe 18th June 1964:

Now I am supposed to be in London for the rehearsals of my (primitive) cantata “Tongues of Fire” for the Bach Festival at Oxford next week. It was a mad thing all along. First they wanted to do it in Greek (Biblical text) with an English chorus, then they decided no, a Greek chorus would be fine, so back came the parts (all this during this month), then they decided no again, maybe Covent Garden choirs are good, since the work is really theatrical in conception, so back go the parts today, thus leaving us with a semi-rehearsed Greek choir, a non-rehearsed English choir to sing fast (lots of parate) in gibberish … with few days to go before performance. Stravinsky is also there and will probably conduct his Psalms. I really don’t know what will happen. I have one longish passage towards the end where the choir speaks frantically, developing into a collective hystrical mob screaming and laughing and crying etc, just before they sing “Sanctus”….

Extract from a letter to Folke Rabe, Christmas 1964:

My “Tongues of Fire” (oratorio) went very well — now (this March) it is to be performedon Italian Television — the at the Oxford Festival again next June 


The Persians



Jani Christou, In composing for the chorus – in Art Theatre 1942-1972, Greek Theatrical Society

In writing the music for The Persians, I was not trying to create simple background music effects. I was attracted by the possibility of using the chorus as a means of reproducing the raw material of the tragedy, the basic elemental emotions. This is what I tried to achieve by selecting the position of the words and phrases in such a way that they create patterns of autonomous vocal sound of varied texture. Psalmody properly so-called was a secondary concern for me, and wherever it appears it is nothing more than one “acoustic” event in the work amongst many. For example, passages often occur in the “accompaniment” which require certain members of the chorus to pronounce different fragments of the text simultaneously and at different dynamic levels … For such a task, inspiration at rehearsals is essential and indispensable. In presenting these sometimes simple, sometimes more complex verses, the chorus must free itself from all inhibition. There must no longer be any impression of effort or anything artificial … Koun became inflamed and that was communicative … Passages that seemed affected and soulless suddenly began to sparkle. Throughout the rehearsals, new ideas came to us and we tried different things as we went along … It was a completely liberating experience’

Extract from a letter to Folke Rabe, Christmas 1964:

… at the moment I am finishing the music of Aeschylus’ “The Persians” for the World Theatre Season in London this spring and Theatre de Nations in Paris Shortly after – I have, for the first time been able to find a stage director willing to experiment – and have “orchestrated” the voices of the chorus itself in such a way at to make the use of instruments almost unneccesary — in the section during —– the chorus is calling upon the ghost of Darius to appear — they work up incredible rhythms (vocal rhythms) and finally fall down exhausted.


The Frogs

Interview with Christou by Vangelis Psyrakis, Messimbrini 18 July 1966

‘With the music and especially the chorus parts, I tried – I do not know if I succeeded – to render prominent the elements of ritualism that occur in Attic drama. I do not want to give the impression of saying that Aristophanes wrote religious works…Quite the reverse. The contemporary issues with which he was concerned are well known. He was, moreover, very direct. He did not write with the help of innuendo… And yet, whatever the subject of his comedy, it unfolded according to a ritual “recipe” which, in The Frogs, may be identified with the “passions” of Dionysus, with the mythological archetypal drama of the renewal of life after death

Each comedy presents at its outset an important problem, puts forward a critical case. The situations to which these problems give rise lead the rival parties to vie with one another, and the comedy reaches its climax as it resolves triumphantly in an oriastic renewal of the “good” elements.

God of Attic drama, Dionysus, with his “passions”, created the form of the comedy. Thus, on one level, the work is concerned with contemporary issues, whilst on a second level, ot opens up the whole Dionysian mystery. This is one thing that Aristophanes did not need to emphasize, because it exists in the unconscious of the whole of the ancient world.

Today, through my music, I have tried to bring these ritual elements to the surface. It is only in this way that the extent of the parode, with the choral drama of the ceremony of the putting to death and resurrection of Dionysus, may be explained, and the fact that the chorus moves from highly comical situations to a ritual atmosphere, particularly at the end of the work, may be justified’.

‘The music I used in the Frogs is basically the music everyday life. I mean I used jazz elements and popular music from Greece and abroad. In short, anything you might hear on switching on the radio. I wanted to serve the theater, a given theatrical work, by following Verdi’s conviction that for a stage a bad but theatrical work is preferable to a beautiful but non-theatrical one. Besides, music has now gone beyond the boundaries within which it was enclosed for so many centuries; within the term “music”, the composer of our time includes even the sounds and the footsteps of the man in the street’.

‘The music for the Frogs does not of course represent the way I write, it’s all a musical joke really, I did it as a relaxation on a “pop”-music basis. It was fun. But the play is interesting, quite openly reflecting the various stages of an Eleusian Mystery: the decent into the Underworld, the fearful experiences (done very funnily), the “initiates”the flogging (martyrdom), the judgment and finally the triumphal outcome and the glorious “resurrection”-ascent (Aeschylus wins over poor Euripides in the poetic contest). Aristophanes was of course making points relevant to his day and times, and making fun of Mysteries too, but deep down it’s not all fun, and in spite of all the irreverence and fun, the good old archetypes are certainly at work. I tried to bring this aspect out, by using liturgical elements, even in “pop”-style at times, as an under-current. E.g during the funny episode when Dionysus is being flogged by Aiakos (to see whether this hurts him) I make the chorus begin to chant, “liturgically”; and during the final judgement-scene, during the poetic contest, I use the chorus in the same manner. I had accepted to do this play, the music that is, because the director, Koun, let me use the chorus in this manner. Otherwise, “musically” it is not interesting at all’.

Extract from a letter to Folke Rabe, June 1966:

“After the success of “The Persians” – and only last week it triumphed (I sound like an ad-man) again in Munich (it is reported that Carl Orff was especially impressed), it was difficult not to be tempted again, and I accepted to do a comedy – Aristophanes’ “The Frogs” with the same theatrical group of course. I tried to avoid this, but finally allowed temptation to drag me into it, and at the very last moment: I have hardly begun and the premiere is July 19th in the Athens Festival (then on tour, then with The Persians again at the World Theater Season at the Aldwych in London Spring 1967).


Praxis for 12 1968



Commentary included in the score of Praxis for 12


‘Praxis stands for action belonging to a certain logic. Metapraxis stands for action which threatens that logic, perhaps transcends that logic. They are opposites and imply each other, so that the title “PRAXIS FOR TWELVE” implies the possibility of a metapraxis for twelve. “Twelve” refers to the twelve tones of western music’s recent historic past’.


‘Any living art keeps generating an overall logic fed by a collectivity of characteristic actions. Whenever an action is purposefully performed to conform with the current overall logic characteristic of the art, that action is a “praxis”, or a purposeful and characteristic of action. But whenever an action is purposefully performed so as to go beyond the current overall logic characteristic of the art, that action is a “metapraxis”, or a purposeful non-charactristic action: a “meta-action”. Thus, in the performing arts, any action which requires its performer to go beyond the current logic of the medium to which he belongs, requires him to go beyond the logic of his world of action, as it were. That action is a “meta-praxis”, and it is purposefully “non-characteristic”. Conversely, an action which does not conform purposefully with the current logic of that medium is a “praxis” as long as it is purposefully “characteristic”.

For instance, a conductor conducting during a concert is a praxis, but if he is also required to walk about, speak, scream, gesticulate, or perform any other action not strictly connected to conducting, that could be a metapraxis…

On the other hand, if an actor, say or a dancer, is called upon to perform during a “mixed-media” piece, and he is required to scream, laugh, move about, dance, gesticulate, or whatever, he could merely performing a praxis, and not a metapraxis.

The Meaning Barrier

The last example suggests that a metapraxis is not a function of mixed media. A metapraxis is an implosion, a tension under the surface of a single medium which threatens that medium’s meaning barrier. An assault on the logic of the performer’s relationship to his own particular medium. A violation within a single order of things. Or, a subtle pressure against the barrier of meaning which any system generates for its own preservation.

The Elusive Nature of Metapraxis

The implication is, of course, that as the logic of the medium keeps changing in sympathy with the dynamics of the worldwide parameters of history, the manners in which metapraxis could be expressed must be constantly readjusted.

The Opposites

One can put it in various ways. For instance, the relationship between praxis and metapraxis corresponds to the relationship between physics and metaphysics. This is not to say that metapraxis is “metaphysical”, only that just as metaphysics cannot be experienced in terms of the logic of physics, so metapraxis cannot be experienced in the terms of the logic of praxis. Metapraxis is “beyond” praxis, yet not independent of praxis. And this points to the conclusion that just as metaphysics, if at all meaningful, is so only because of the “opposite” concept of physics, so metapraxis is meaningful only by virtue of its “opposite”: praxis. Another instance of opposites illuminating each other or, at least, implying each other. And here one could add this: just as physics, when provoked, has a tendency to break through into metapraxis, so praxis, when provoked has a tendency to break through into metapraxis. Continuing the parallel, an ultimate realization could be the identification of praxis with metapraxis in a union of opposites, so that a metapraxis has no further reason to be any different to “praxis”. The statement, of course, is an obvious target for questions of this type: “then why this whole business of metapraxis in the first place?” To which the only answer is, just as obviously, silence.’


(play of opposites)
for orchestra 1965-68

Program notes for the premiere of Enantiodromia 1969

“If patterns are understood as recurring forms dictating inevitable types of actions, then Heraclitus’ concept of the play of opposites – ENANTIODROMIA – is perhaps the most ruthless pattern of all. For here he speaks of a constant inter-trans-formation of opposites in an eternal flux – in the sense that any condition and its opposite are the same, only at different stages of oscillation: ‘The way up and the way down are the same’.

Together, these two waves form one dynamic circle of tension, along the circumference of which their ending and beginning keep merging, relentlessly. An eternal process, with no beginning, nor an end. A pitiless process terrifying in its implication of the inevitable succession of component patterns representing opposite conditions – because peace is a pattern, and war is a pattern, and the one will keep following the other, no matter what we do, until perhaps, such a time when a total eclipse of the process is brought about by some giant scale catastrophe – while this, too, would then only be part of the greater pattern, a vaster swing of the pendulum, on and on, relentlessly, ruthlessly.”

from: Key to listening to Enantiodromia included in the score

As from the beginning and throughout the entire duration of the work, keep your attention fixed only on the high-pitched flow of sound. Do not be distracted by the gradual accumulation of other events, not even by the agitated and explosive violence of the final stages of enantiodromia.

You are therefore required to keep “listening” only to those acute threads of sound and the flow of their various patterns. Laser-like, these will carry your concentrated attention both through the thickest activity and through the total silence preceding the end-beginning, and beyond’.

‘A pattern is an independent system. By “independence” is meant that, once released, and up to its cessation as a whole, the pattern’s flow is independent of factors lying outside itself: a pattern is autonomous; a pattern is ruthless! Composing begins whenever a pattern’s autonomous course is “interfered” with’


The Strychnine Lady

Note by the composer dated March 1967

‘The work is written for a solo woman viola player, two groups of massed strings, brass, percussion (including pianoforte), magnetic tape, a metal sheet construction, sound-producing objects and toys, a red cloth, five actors and a conductor. The para-musical events (gestures, actions, theatrical fragments) do not always coincide with the musical activities. In other words, the music proper may exist without these other events and vice versa. Basically, there is no “communication” between the two – Nor, and this is more important, is there any “communication” between components within the same type of event. It is rather like individuals caught up in a crowd; they act with the crowd but do not communicate with each other. And if there does seem to be a relationship between components of a particular group, this is because they are reacting to identical signals, not because they are establishing a relationship with each other.

Extract from a letter to Rhoda Lee Rhea 10 February 1967:

‘The work is not descriptive, but it does share certain states in common with the “mortificatio” state: (Dionysus as Zagreus. – the dismemberment is one of the many instances)/ The logic here, if you can call this logic, is that of a dream in which states melt into other states with no apparent outward reason.


Epicycle 1968

Extract from a letter dated 30 December 1968

‘In Epicycle Phase I there is a voluntary abdication of my role of composer, in the sense of organizer of a set of parameters within the limited stretch of conventional performance-time. Since there has been such an abdication, I must accept all the negative aspects of this action, i.e. loose form, no form, repetition, non-sense, lack of synthesis, abolition of the sense of “climax”, neutralization of musical “impact”, and so on and so forth. These disadvantages of hardly any rehearsal, non-functioning of the electronic equipment, etc. On the other hand, the role of the composer has not been devalued simply for the sake of the surprise value of some “happening” (which quickly wears off anyway). The role of the composer has been devalued in order to allow whatever elements were available at the time to behave as symbols of events, and certainly not as “artistic events”, nor as synthesized events. This is a dangerous game, I know, but it is essential if one is to get to the roots of protoperformance, the root of all art (in the last analysis this reflects a questioning of the validity of history itself, and of historical societies which make “art” meaningful). In Epicycle I was concerned also with a confrontation with chaos, not in its “composed” or decorative aspect (the safer, conventional attitude), but in its negative and “non-artistic” aspect. And apart from the unsynthesized events provided by the performers, the work expected contributions from the audience, and these contributions were plentiful and spontaneous.

The other point I wish to make is that both the symbolic re-enactments of events, as well as the spontaneous events contributed by the public, occurred within a conceptual framework: the concept supplied by the SCORE of Epicycle, with the an-historical (not relevant to history) continuum dimension carrying the historical dimensions of “events” in time. In this sense Epicycle is similar to protoperformances in which actions are significant only because they belong to a larger outlook and not because of their decorative nature of their function as components in “art”.


Anaparastasis III ‘The Pianist’

Christou described Anaparstasis III – ‘The Pianist’ in terms of ‘system’ and ‘anti-system’:

“SYSTEM: The conductor and his team belong to a world which, although it wants to be controlled by some ‘system’, cannot manage to ignore the events that threaten the coherence of this system. ANTI-SYSTEM: On the other hand the soloist, with his activities and efforts at the end of the work to make an explanatory gesture, aims at breaking through the barrier of coherence of the ‘system’, and capture a meaning beyond the ‘system’. This gesture is the signal for the ‘scatter’ that urges the members of a team, who are bound to a prearranged course, to perform their ‘programme’ in their own fashion. But since, perhaps, such an initiative is a false illusion of freedom, the gesture is never completed.”


Mysterion 1965-66

Note by the composer dated Copenhagen, June 1969


R√¢ is in his boat on the river which runs through the underworld at noght and flows into the “ocean of the sky” during the day. While in the underworld, the dismal inhabitants crowd both sides of his boat along the banks. Un the eight division of the underworld, which corresponds to events suggested by Mysterion, he must pass through a region in which other bleak unhabitants are shut up in “circles that are hidden”.

Formal Plan of the Oratorio Section

I Before reaching this point there is a confusion of anguished rejoicings at the light which emanates from him as he enters the division, and of a despair as “words of power”, which alone can save one from total destruction, are forgotten or mispronounced.

II But Râ, occasionally struggling himself with the articulation of these “words”, succeeds in formulating these indispensable formulas which he uses like weapons, destroying his enemies. He hurls these words like bullets and passes on.


III When he gets to the “hidden circles”, these is a strange stillness. Eventually he pronounces the right word and pierces through. He calls out, mysteriously, to each circle, and those that are “shut” within

IV are momentarily revivified by his words of power and respond with strange stirrings and even stranger sounds.

V “Like the hum of many bees, the sound of bulls and other male animals, of male cats weeping, of dead bodies, of those who lament,

VI of those who make supplication through terror, of those who are killed on the battle-field, of the twittering of birds, of the confused murmering of the living…” This is the last key phrase: the confused murmer of the living. So it is that those “hidden-circles” could be our own world whose light is darkness and whose sound is “confused”

VII But Râ passes on, and the gathering momentum of confusion turns fearsome cries of triumph lit up by blinding, painful light.

VIII Yet the triumph is Râ’s, not man’s, and as the boat passes out of the

IX division, the gate closes, shutting out his light, and all returns to cold inertia, to the darkness of the “Chamber of Destruction”. The throb of the ship’s heartbeat is heard dying out in the distance.’

Christou’s introduction to the score:

Within this “climate” then Mysterion unfolds with the logic – or, rather, the lack of logic – of a dream, of dream dreamt today, tomorrow… Events are superimposed on other events. Words are articulated but their meaning cannot possibly be clear. The text is not meant to be ‘followed’. After all, it consists entirely of magical formulas articulated in the original. And even if the words were of our own age, the distortions would still be the samer. Here words do not describe anything. They are, perhaps, exclamations, and as in exclamations it is the tone of voice which counts most.”

This is a dream. There is form though. It is this:


and that which occurs in the circle in the centre is a nightmare. The opening statements, spoken in the language of the audience are carved in hieroglyphics on the walls of the tomb of Seti I.’

Extract from a note by Christou dated 19 October 1965

‘The underworld was a region shrouded in the gloom and darkness of night and a place of fear and horror. An enormous circular valley ringed by mountains. At each end of the Tuat (underworld) was a space which was neither wholly darkness nor wholly light, the western end being partially lighted by the setting sun and the eastern end by the rising sun. A river flowed through the Tuat with “inhabitants” on each of its banks (Nile-like). This river joined the great celestial waters (source of earthly Nile). Certain parts of this Kingdom of the Dead belonged by tradition to certain cities – Heliopolis, Memphis, Heraklopolis, etc., – each possessing its own “other-world” and gods of the dead, and all this had to be considered by the theologians who formulated the general plan of the Tuat.

The underworld consisted of twelve divisions through which the Sun-god penetrated nightly, travelling in his “boat of a million years”. The wants and needs of the “inhabitants” of this Kingdom of the Dead were provided for by the use of WORDS OF POWER.’

Extract from letter to Folke Rabe Christmas 1965:

“As for myself I am at last working in what I hope is the right direction for me – (no theater compositions for at least a year) – I am breaking through to areas which I felt intuitively before but which I am gradually realising now. I am at present writing a work for triple chorus – (or chorus divided in to three groups) – plus instruments, and I use ‘words of power’ from remote antiquity (The 8th division of the Underworld – AM TUAT of the ancient Egyptians).”


Six T. S. Eliot Songs

The idea to write songs on poems by T. S. Eliot came to me in Rome in 1950. It was then that “Eyes that last I saw in tears” was written (and incorporated in the Symphony No. 1), and that a draft for ‘Melange Adultere de Tout’ and ‘The wind sprang up at four o’clock’ were written. Also the central idea for ‘Phlebus the Phoenican’ was born around then (the mournful soft deep pedal and acute sorrowful bell – or phantom bell effect…) I took the idea up again in 1953, in the summer, and wrote the set as Five Songs. It was while making the “neat” copy that I realised I had to add a sixth song – and that the sixth had to be ‘Virginia’. This was written in a day. The Six Songs for Mezzo-Soprano and Pianoforte were finished in October 1955. The following year, in Chios, the idea came to me that these ought to be sung with orchestra, and later, in the summer of 1957, Piero Guarino suggested I should do that. Starting on August 22, 1957 and finishing a month later, I wrote the orchestral edition (finished in October 1957)’.